Hawkeye Sidekick

EPL 2020 / 2021 Preview: Teams A-C

EPL kick off loom large

It feels like only like last week when the 2019-20 season concluded. Liverpool were finally crowned EPL winners. There was heartbreak for Norwich City, AFC Bournemouth and Watford who were relegated to the treacherous EFL SkyBet Championship.

In this post, we look at the EPL 2020-21 season preview. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews Arsenal, Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Three questions posed — the hope, the fear and the expected outcome for each team. Let’s go.

Arsenal

The Hope: Mikel Arteta effect has seen silverware in the FA Cup and Community Shield in recent months. The hope is that the team will improve with further time to embrace Arteta’s footballing philosophy during this shortened preseason. The hope is that the team will continue their form and be prominent at the top of the league table.

The Fear: Defensive woes plagued the club last season. Gabriel has been signed but squad depth in the central defensive areas looks a weak point. Rob Holding could be loaned out to Newcastle which will mean further depth chart weakness. Arteta may need to delve more into the transfer market defensively to address this.

Expected Outcome: A progressive season for Arsenal and they should be in the top four battle. I do not see them challenging for league honors but they will take scalps of the top four this term. The attacking threat and Ceballos in the middle of the park means that the quality is there.

Aston Villa

The Hope: Not to repeat the last day heroics to stave off EPL relegation last season. The squad came through with four points in the last two games but how key was that goal that never was against Sheffield United upon the league resumption? Huge moment in the EPL relegation battle.

The Fear: The lack of quality upfront to deliver the goals was wholly exposed last season. Jack Grealish was the creative spark for Villa in the final third albeit with timely contributions with Hourihane and McGinn as well.

The Ollie Watkins deal is a step forward but the transfer fee quoted (28 million) just shows how desperate the club are to securing a goalscorer. Watkins has no EPL experience, a gamble albeit Smith knows the player from his time at Brentford. Smith’s transfer dealings did not hit the mark last season and his loan deal for Danny Drinkwater — let’s not go there!

Expected Outcome: It all depends on what transpires in the transfer window in the coming weeks. Jack Grealish has been linked away from the club. The reports are that the player and his agent are waiting for the club to prove they are ambitious and secure upgrades in the squad. This is a work in progress and Grealish could be lured away. If he goes, then the club are in relegation trouble. If he stays, relegation survival is possible. I am not convinced on the transfers so far at the club during this off-season.

Brighton

The Hope: Squad improves under Graham Potter. Easy to watch football but precious little end product. Murray has left. Duffy has left. Mooy has left. Potter entrusts the young players like Molumby, White to deliver next term. Connolly with another EPL season under his belt, more experienced and should contribute more in the goal scoring stakes.

The Fear: Experience has left the dressing room; huge onus for the young players to step up here. Can Potter be pragmatic enough to change the game plan if the passing philosophy does not produce the goals early in the season. The consistency issue popped up last season — form fell off a cliff at the start of 2020 and in another season could have been relegated but for how abysmal the bottom three were.

Expected Outcome: Potter for me is a manager under pressure and this BHA board do have a tendency to pull the trigger. A relegation battle is not in the board’s remit — they sacked Chris Hughton for considerably less and do not be surprised if Potter is an early season casualty. The integration of youth into the side will have its consistency issues. A relegation candidate for me and it is sad to say given that Connolly and Molumby should get more game time this term.

Burnley

The Hope: Sean Dyche remains a constant at the football club. His man management in my opinion is second to none and his media approach always deflects attention away from his side. The squad are hard working, they stick to the game plan and with attacking threat in wide positions with McNeil means that Wood and Rodriguez have good service to score goals. The attacking set piece is an essential component.

The Fear: Burnley have been built off a solid defensive unit. Yes, the side to a man complete their duties with professionalism but Nick Pope and James Tarkowski are key leaders for the side on the defensive side of the ball. These players have attracted interest from other EPL clubs in this off-season. If these players are sold, it is to do with the financial situation at the football club. This is something to watch out for. If either player departs Turf Moor, then it is a massive loss and a lengthy relegation will ensue.

Their form can be inconsistent; they go six games unbeaten and then go on a three or four game losing streak. I am not sure if this will be addressed this season but it is a concern.

Expected Outcome: Given that Pope and Tarkowski remain at the football club, then they should be able to secure the forty points to remain in the division and probably a healthy mid-table position. As long as Dyche is at the football club, Burnley will be just fine.

Chelsea

The Hope: The summer signings are a statement of massive signal of intent. Havertz, Werner, Ziyech, Chilwell and Thiago Silva are marquee signings but what happens to the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham who progressed nicely last season. It may take time for these signings to gel into the side but potential aplenty.

The Fear: Who is the goalkeeper to lead the team next season? Kepa looks to be written off by the club, manager and fans. Caballero is a solid keeper but hardly inspired those around him at the back end of last season. The defensive side of the team was very much a work in progress. Midfield opened up and defensively made the wrong reads. Wilian departs the club to Arsenal, a player who has still plenty to offer. Who takes several fringe squad players on permanent deals? Outgoings are required.

Expected Outcome: No excuses for Frank Lampard this term. The board have supported him in the transfer market and it is up to the manager to integrate these players quickly to launch a credible title tilt. Squad rotation will be interesting this term given the attacking riches at Lampard’s disposal. The fine balancing act between giving sufficient time for one player but causing angst for another. The dressing room dynamic may get compromised. Top four yes but whether they will be a top two contender is an question mark right now given the defensive and keeper weak points.

Crystal Palace

The Hope: Arrest last season’s end of season form (granted plenty of top eight teams in that fixture list) but a rot could set in. A good start is vital for Hodgson and squad. The hope is that Zaha remains at the club but it is a 50/50 call right now. Eze looks exciting but a big step up to the EPL from Championship. Michy Batshuayi loan deal should add additional goals to the side who struggled from striking positions last season.

The Fear: Roy Hodgson has done a great job at Palace; stabilized the club after the short lived de Boer era but the question is the long term vision for the football club. What is the succession plan at Selhurst Park? Hodgson surely will go to a director of football role, this decision could happen sooner rather than later if last season’s end of term form continues into this. Zaha future and whether he leave the football has become an annual talking point. It still causes uncertainty but Palace with their summer attacking signs are indicating that the Zaha era at the club may be at an end.

Expected Outcome: Difficult to assess. Palace if they can make a decent start to this season should secure the forty points with the assured Hodgson in charge. If not, managerial change could happen and then it gets interesting. Palace should survive but a lower mid-table could be the most to expect from this squad.